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Lawsuits hang over ongoing Pennsylvania vote count

Legal challenges could end up tipping the balance in the state

As Pennsylvania continued to count ballots early Wednesday, Republicans in the state have pursued outstanding legal challenges to provisional ballots and the voting process in the key swing state.

Republicans in the Keystone State have criticized Democratic Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar for her handling of widespread mail-in voting due to the coronavirus pandemic. With vote reporting still coming in for one of the last undecided states in the country, the lawsuits could end up tipping the balance in the state.

Just after midnight Wednesday, the state had counted about 20 percent of close to 2.5 million mail-in ballots. State law mandates counties only start counting absentee ballots on Election Day, and a federal lawsuit launched by Kathy Barnette, the Republican challenger to Democratic Rep. Madeleine Dean, alleges one suburban Philadelphia county illegally started early.

The plaintiffs argued that one suburban Pennsylvania county violated election law by allowing voters to provisionally vote after their ballots were rejected.

Officials in Montgomery County are “implementing their own arbitrary standards by illegally pre-canvassing mail-in ballots received before November 3rd and, in certain instances, providing the electors submitting such illegally pre-canvassed ballots that are found to be deficient an opportunity to re-vote on or before November 3rd,” the suit said.

Voting officials left ballots in a public area of the county building and opened them prior to state law’s mandated start on Election Day, Barnette’s suit alleged. According to the suit, representatives for the candidates have not been allowed to directly observe the pre-canvassing effort, another violation.

A prior state supreme court decision held that ballots mailed without a secondary secrecy sleeve could be rejected.

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Initially Barnette and the other plaintiffs sued Montgomery County officials. Late Tuesday, the Democratic National Committee sought to intervene in the case. A federal judge has set an emergency hearing in the case for 9 a.m. Wednesday

Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., along with several Republican officials in the state, filed a separate suit Tuesday arguing a broader violation of election law brought on by Boockvar.

The suit alleged Boockvar sent “extraordinary” instructions to county officials statewide on Monday, allowing them to open ballots to see whether they were contained in the secrecy sleeve. Officials could then contact voters to allow them to cast a provisional ballot, which the suit argued violates state law.

The Kelly case is scheduled for a hearing Wednesday afternoon in a Harrisburg state court.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf defended the election process and Boockvar in a statement early Wednesday morning. He called the suits and separate criticism of Boockvar a partisan attack on the voting process.

“Attacks like this are an attempt to undermine confidence in the results of the election, and we should all denounce them for the undemocratic actions they are,” Wolf said.

Early Wednesday, President Donald Trump seemed to allude to Pennsylvania and other states with outstanding results in a tweet that Twitter labeled as misleading, tweeting that he was up “BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the Election.”

Speaking at the White House to a crowd of supporters after 2 a.m., Trump said he planned to take the election to the Supreme Court.

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